Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
It has a simple story, but a liberating tone and nature. Little Miss Sunshine comes with a breath of fresh air into an industry and a society arguably saturated with superficial values and a impeding political correctness. That is not to say that this is the Messiah of filmmaking, but it is a cleansing little film that might just give its viewers a push in the right direction.
What's good is that, although the film is satirical, it doesn't use the object of its satire to pull itself up. This is not a cynical film - it doesn't take itself that seriously. The explicit message is simple and well-known, inviting us to free ourselves from exclusively focusing on exteriors, and doing so without wanting to crush those little childhood princess dreams. I think this is one of the film's most remarkable feats. No one is judging Olive for wanting to be beautiful and wanting to win, but then again they are determined for not to stop being herself during her quest.
Michael Arndt's effervescent script has an uncorrupted feel-goodness to it that is harder to achieve than one might think. It drives the film forward, carried by crisp dialogue and good-old situational comedy. Sure, the film deploys the traditional road movie formula, and it isn't free of a formulaic climax ending, but perceptive direction by Dayton/Faris makes it all work. Their refreshing approach makes us believe that there, in this world in general and in the United States in particular, might be some sane people left after all.
The performances in Little Miss Sunshine is proof that an ensemble cast can collectively elevate each other. The title role is brilliantly inhabited by a rare talent in Abigail Breslin. She goes deeper in her role than child performers normally do. I also liked Alan Arkin's emancipated Grandpa, but the best performance here, in my opinion, belongs to Greg Kinnear. Taking us through all his struggles, inside his flawed but good heart, Kinnear embodies a patriarch in ups and downs and delivers his best performance since As Good As It Gets.
There's nothing revolutionary about Little Miss Sunshine, but it is one of those films that you can tell is simply good for your health. If you're fed up with fast-paced capitalistic television-style garbage, Little Miss Sunshine might bring you some sanity back. It is the kind of feel-good film that doesn't have to exploit sentimentality to get your response.